Model Railway Plans

By Iain MacDonald 2020-04-08•

As part of lockdown self-amusement I’ve decided to build myself a small model railway layout. When I saw small I really do mean quite small. The space I have available is about 1280 mm by 920 mm that’s approx (4′ by 3′). Not much space whatsoever. Additionally the corner of the room earmarked for the layout is where I keep my bike and there’s not really anywhere else for either of them. So they’ll have to coexist, such is the life of a small Hong Kong flat. This means the layout will need to be build quite high to leave plenty of space beneath it for storage. Effectively this puts the layout quite close to eye line which should be quite interesting even if it makes construction/maintenance a little more challenging.

I’m sure many railway modellers would tell me that space is far to small for an HO layout and I should consider an N scale layout. They’re probably right but I grew up with OO scale trains which just sort of feel right too me. OO scale trains use the same HO scale track but are disproportionately larger in their body compared to their track gauge. I opted for HO scale for this layout as they’re much easier to hold of in Hong Kong both new from shops and second hand. I only know of one shop selling OO Hornby products in Hong Kong which would somewhat limit my options.

The plan I’ve come up with after some iteration has a station area with an attached TMD/Engine Shed. There’s one complete loop and in total three clockwise sidings and three anti-clockwise. There’s also a passing loop which can of course be accessed from either direction.

As you might expect I won’t be able to have any long trains going round but it should be able to cope with trains a couple of wagons long as well as possibly a single long passenger coach or a couple of shorter ones.

One of my main motivations for building the layout is as a testbed for some train automation. Lockdown has provided me ample opportunity to watch scores of fantastic modellers on YouTube. Most of these layouts use DCC to control the trains individually with digital control. One particular layout that caught my attention was by a man named Charlie. He’d used DCC coupled with computer control to run automated scenarios moving trains around autonomously. This gave an observer an extra dimension of wonder as to which train would appear next.

I wanted the challenge of designing my own system distinct from the established DCC. I would design my own hardware and software to control trains, points and signals. It would be based around the ESP8266 microcontroller which has an embedded WiFi radio to communicate with the control server written in Javascript running on Node. The choice of architecture is purely based around what I have experience with and what I have lying around or is easily available.

The hillside hides most of the sidings providing opportunity for intrigue as well as some scenic creativity with possibly a forest scene and lake with a small waterfall running into a brook below track level.

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